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It still pays to go to college, new data suggests

The high cost of college has left some Americans questioning whether it pays to pursue a higher education, especially at a time when jobs remain scarce.

A new batch of government data suggests it's worth the investment, even in a tight economy.

People with a college degree earned nearly twice as much as people with a high school degree in the last three months of 2011, a Census Bureau report released Tuesday found.

The Census report showed that the median – or midpoint – of personal earnings for people with a high school degree was $5,984 in the last three months of 2011. That compares to median earnings of $11,749 for those with a college degree.

People with a post-graduate degree - such as doctors, lawyers and MBAs -  fared even better. They had median personal earnings of $15,733 for the three-month period, the Census report found.

Soaring tuition costs have left many Americans reconsidering whether a higher education is worth the long-term payoff. Many are especially worried about the number of Americans who are struggling to pay off thousands of dollars in student loan debt when it is tough to find good-paying jobs.

But proponents argue that the cost of college can be worth it, if students are careful about the school and major they choose, and don’t take on too much debt. Besides higher earnings, they note that college graduates are more likely to be employed. The unemployment rate for people with a college degree or higher was 3.8 percent in January, compared with 7.9 percent for those with a high school degree.

A separate report from Pew Charitable Trusts, released in January, found that 21- to 24-year-olds with a college degree saw smaller drops in both employment and wages than those without a college degree. That suggests that the extra education helped them weather the recession better than their less-educated peers.

Tip of the hat to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on this data.


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